Rushing to Obama's Defense Against More "Misleading" Ads By McCain

Two news stories on the same page accuse John McCain of running "misleading" ads against Barack Obama.

In the same edition in which reporter Michael Cooper accuses John McCain of making "misleading" claims against Barack Obama, his colleague Jim Rutenberg put McCain on trial for other "misleading" attacks againstthe Democrat.In Wednesday's "With Commercial, McCain Gets Much More Than His Money's Worth," Rutenberg marveled at how McCain garnered so much free press coverage from a "misleading" ad about Obama cancelling a visit to wounded troops in Germany.

The number of times Senator John McCain's new advertisement attacking Senator Barack Obama for canceling a visit with wounded troops in Germany last week has been shown fully or partly on local, national and cable newscasts: well into the hundreds.

The number of times that spot actually, truly ran as a paid commercial: roughly a dozen.

Result for Mr. McCain: a public relations coup that allowed him to show his toughest campaign advertisement of the year - one widely panned as misleading - to millions of people, largely free, through television news media hungry for political news with arresting visual imagery.

Yet the Times' Jeff Zeleny did a "Check Point" on the issue Tuesday and was unable to arrive at a conclusion. Zeleny even posed a challenge to Obama's explanation:

If the story behind the story of the canceled troop visit has run its course, one question remains: Why didn't Mr. Obama leave his aides behind, even the retired general, and make the visit by himself?

Rutenberg continued on Wednesday:

The [McCain] spot accuses Mr. Obama of canceling a planned visit to wounded American troops during a visit to Germany last week because it "seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras." Mr. Obama said he had no plans to bring cameras. He canceled his visit amid what he said was concern he would appear to be using wounded troops as pawns during the overtly political leg of his trip.

As an announcer says, "He made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops," the spot shows Mr. Obama playing basketball - without noting that it was during a visit he made to active-duty troops in Kuwait earlier in the week.

Mr. McCain's campaign released the advertisement on Saturday afternoon, and it was shown on television news before it made its first appearance as a paid commercial, during "Saturday Night Live," in Denver. The late local news on the NBC affiliate there, KUSA, showed much of Mr. McCain's commercial in a report about its coming run. "He's putting it in front of your eyes here in Colorado before anywhere else," said the anchor, Carrie McClure. The report included a brief rebuttal from Mr. Obama.

The spot got extensive coverage on "Face the Nation" and "Fox News Sunday" the following morning. Those programs are available on scores of stations. And the Web sites of The New York Times and other news outlets posted links to it.

Yet, by the end of the day, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, it had actually run all of six times as a paid advertisement.

He later relayed criticism from Sen. Chuck Hagel and Sen. Claire McCaskill and NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell.

Rutenberg wasn't nearly so sensitive a month ago when it came to the dubious accuracy of ads emanating from the left-wing cottage industry of Obama filmmaker fans.